‘Comedy episode’; two words guaranteed to strike fear into the hearts of cult television fans, sometimes even more so than ‘clip show’. There’s nothing more painful than watching our favourite shows fail in a misguided attempt to be funny, and the various Gerry Anderson series are no exception in this regard, but they have also produced several comedy episodes that are true classics and fully deserve to be treated as such. Here are five of our favourites!
#5 – Terrahawks: Two for the Price of One
The key to a truly funny Gerry Anderson episode is in the creation of outlandish situations, but not at the expense of the characters. With one notable exception the episodes on this list are at their funniest when the characters involved are remaining perfectly true to their established personalities while madness reigns all around them. The first episode of the second season of Terrahawks is a fine example of that, as the humour comes from Zelda and Yung-star scrambling to make preparations for the birth of Cy-star’s baby – and an unexpected ‘complication’ results in the only delivery room scene in television history to include a crowbar. We can’t go into too much more detail as we’d like to keep this a family-friendly website, but the result is not only one of the funniest but also the most adult visual joke in Gerry Anderson history – so much so that the scenes in question were removed on the episode’s original broadcast!
#4 – The Secret Service: More Haste Less Speed
The final episode of The Secret Service (and therefore of the entire Supermarionation era) sees Father Unwin and Matthew almost entirely sidelined by a memorable quartet of villains and their search for missing counterfeit plates. It’s impossible to choose a favourite guest character out of Lord Edward Hazlewell (David Graham), his sister Lady Martha (Keith Alexander) (yes, really and beautifully), Mullins (Jeremy Wilkin), and Spiker (Gary Files) as all four are superb comic creations, with their infighting and casual disregard for each other’s safety highlights of the story. Multiple betrayals and double-crosses result in a madcap chase across country (by land and air, thanks to the Thunderbird 6 Tiger Moth model making a return appearance), and there’s even a genuinely unintentional moment of bonus hilarity thanks to Lady Martha’s obviously male live-action stand in!
#3 – Captain Scarlet: Flight to Atlantica
How does an episode from the notoriously grim Captain Scarlet earn a spot on this list? Simply by producing a typically serious situation with an atypical but still serious reason why certain characters are behaving out of the norm, and letting the laughs develop from their interactions with each other. We’re particularly thinking of the scenes with the drunk Captains Blue and Ochre cheerfully carving a trail of unintentional destruction across the Atlantic, which play rather like a buddy road trip comedy with explosions. It’s clear that Ed Bishop and Jeremy Wilkin are having a ball doing something different, and their enthusiasm definitely puts smiles on our faces.
#2 – Joe 90: See You Down There
Joe 90’s penultimate episode is a bizarre beautiful hybrid of A Christmas Carol and The Prisoner, as W.I.N. set out to drive an unscrupulous businessman (played by the Colonel White puppet) crazy by any means necessary – including holding 6.a.m. bugle calls outside his house, arranging surprise fancy dress parties, and hiring a variety of new tea boys for his office. Yes, this was one of Shane Weston’s plans. Once again our heroes are firmly in character as they delight in wreaking havoc on the life of Ralph Clayton (not to mention confusing his hapless employees) in a story that’s packed to the brim with quotable lines and memorable characters, and if the sight of Sam Loover responding to Clayton’s call to the police as a wetsuit-clad river policeman – “do a lot of work underwater, undercover, under stones, underpaid!” – doesn’t make you smile we’re not sure what will.
#1 – Stingray: Titan Goes Pop
Stingray was never afraid to be silly but rarely do the show’s comedy elements come together so well as they do here, with almost every scene providing a hilarious moment or memorable line. With dopey pop star Duke Dexter due to give a concert at Marineville as part of a WASP recruitment drive the flurry of activity at the base does not go unnoticed by X-20, who reports the upcoming visit to Titan. Not only is the way he tells Titan what he has stumbled upon a delight (“I read it in the newspaper.” “Brilliant!”) but the underwater despot’s sudden and total determination to kidnap ‘the Duke’ despite neither of them knowing what he is or does is priceless.
Despite the Marineville regulars getting one or two laughs (Commander Shore’s delight at using Troy as a decoy to distract Duke’s legions of screaming fans is a particular joy) the focus remains very much with X-20, who disguises himself as a Duke Dexter fan while simultaneously claiming to be an undercover security agent assigned to protect the star.
This all culminates in the impossible happening; for the first and only time, Titan wins! X-20 successfully kidnaps Duke and brings him to Titanica, where the underwater tyrant…congratulates him for causing havoc among the humans and promptly sends him on his way with a hearty “Keep up the good work!”. Later, as Duke delivers his concert before a frenzied crowd of screaming fans Titan and X-20 (still wearing his groupie disguise) are also watching on a television in Titanica. Not only are they all genuinely enjoying the music but Titan is utterly convinced that they have finally found a human ally, and the sheer joy in his voice (“He’s driving them mad! Success at last!”) is pitched perfectly by Ray Barrett. From beginning to end their misunderstanding of everything Duke is and represents is a superb bit of humour, and also rather cleverly enables Titan and his cohorts to seem truly alien in their way of thinking for perhaps the only time in the show’s history.
Humour is of course extremely subjective, and we’re sure we’ve missed out someone’s candidate for funniest Gerry Anderson episode on this list – so why not let us know some of your faves in the comments below?